What is a juggernaut? According to the Oxford dictionary, it’s “a huge, powerful, and overwhelming force or institution.” When I think of Sennheiser, that’s one word that comes to mind. So welcome folks, to my review of the Sennheiser IE 800 S. Recently Sennheiser released an upgrade to their venerable IE 800 in-ear monitor and that is what we’re looking at today.
For a long time, Sennheiser has indisputably been one of the top names in the audio world and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon. From entry-level to top of the line, they have earphones and headphones (amongst other things) to suit every budget and need.
Just a short time ago, they released a new closed-back headphone, the Sennheiser HD 820, which contains some very interesting new technologies. So it’s great to see that Sennheiser are still actively researching and innovating in the audio space, which is one of the reasons they’re still leaders in the industry.
THD, total harmonic distortion < 0.06% (1 kHz, 94 dB)
Weight approx. 8 g (without cable)
Attenuation -26 dB
Package & Accessories
The Sennheiser IE 800 S box comes wrapped in an outer cardboard sleeve. The sleeve is predominantly black, with a large image of the IEM on the front. On the rear of the box, the usual features and extra marketing speak are strangely absent, leaving it mostly bare.
Underneath the outer sleeve is a dark grey box that has a nicely textured surface. Unlike the sleeve, the inner box looks and feels premium and has a lovely, soft texture. It’s unmarked except for a single Sennheiser logo on the top.
Opening the box gives you your first glimpse of the earphones within, along with the carry case. Both the earphones and the case are seated in a sheet of soft black foam. The first impression is a simple one but it’s quite effective in conveying the premium status of the IEM.
Lifting out the top foam layer reveals another one beneath, which has 4 recessed compartments that hold the rest of the accessories. Here comes the list:
IE 800 S earphones
PU leather carry case
3 x pairs of silicone eartips (S, M, L)
3 x pairs of Comply™ eartips (S, M, L)
2.5mm cable extension
3.5mm cable extension
4.4mm cable extension
Because the IE 800 S uses proprietary eartips, I was a bit concerned that none of them would fit in my bigger than average ear canals. Luckily, with the shape, size and angled nozzles of these earphones, the large tips turned out to be a perfect fit.
The eartips have a metal mesh built in which acts as a wax guard. Interestingly, there’s also one in the nozzle itself, so effectively you get a double layer protective mesh. This should ensure that no debris finds its way into the shells so the drivers will be protected.
The provided premium leather case is a great addition and a welcome one. After all, with an earphone costing this much you really want to have somewhere safe to store them when not in use. The front flap is held in place magnetically and on the inside of this flap is a metal plate with a serial number.
There’s a foam spool with a cutout section to hold the IEMs in place and a channel to lead the cable down to the outer spool. Wrapping the cable around the spool is easy and on each side, there are several holes cut in the foam where you can secure the plug.
The case is roughly the size of an average men’s wallet. it’s perfect for keeping the earphones safe when you’re on the go.
The cable has a black, rubberized sheath and is very smooth and supple. It doesn’t have kinks or memory so it sits nicely without any bounciness. It is a little on the thin side but feels robust and durable, which is important considering the top part of the cable is non-detachable. While it would have been great to see a fully detachable cable, I don’t think it was possible for Sennheiser to implement one because of the very small shell size.
It’s a modular design, meaning that while the top section is secured to the IEM shells, the bottom part can be switched out for use with different plug types. On the top secured section, there are coloured strain reliefs (red for right, black for left).
Versatile connection options
Along with the standard 3.5 mm jack, the IE 800 S also comes with a 2.5 mm and 4.4 mm Pentaconn balanced plugs. These interchangeable extensions connect to the cable just below the Y-split. The main cable has a 2.5 mm termination and the cable extensions connect to this via a 2.5 mm socket.
All 3 of the extension cables terminate in an L-shaped or right-angled plug. These plugs have a rubberized coating that matches the material on the cable. Each of the variants has a good rubber strain relief.
I actually like this cable a lot. It’s very similar (albeit thinner) to the one that came with the DUNU DK-3001. There is one major drawback though, and that is the excessive cable noise (microphonics). It’s likely caused by the shells being so small and I wish that Sennheiser had been able to lessen it somehow.
Perhaps if the strain reliefs were softer and more flexible the microphonics could have been reduced but of course, that might mean less durability of the cable itself. Bit of a catch 22 there. However, using the included shirt clip greatly reduces the cable noise so I would strongly recommend using it. I have tried wearing the cable over-ear style but it’s not quite long enough for me to be worn that way comfortably.
Build & Design
Made from a matte black scratch-resistant ceramic housing, the IE 800 S has a minuscule but very attractive design. The build quality is sterling, as you would expect. Within the tiny housings are Sennheisers proprietary Extra Wide Band (XWB) 7 mm transducers.
Along with the XWB drivers, Sennheiser has incorporated their patented dual-chamber absorber (D2CA) system which they claim:
“overcomes the “masking effect”, where low-volume components of a sound are obscured by much louder sounds in a lower frequency range occurring at the same time.”
They say the D2CA also helps to create a superior soundstage. I’ll cover this later in the sound section.
The shells are very lightweight and taper down towards the back; a bit like a fish’ tail. At the back are two acoustic vents which, fortunately, don’t seem to have much impact on noise isolation.
On each side of the earphones, the Sennheiser ‘S’ logo has been tastefully etched into the shells but is only noticeable on close inspection. There is beauty in the simplicity of the housings’ exterior and I think they look great.
Overall the design of the IE 800 S is excellent and the build quality of the shells is unquestionably good. My only concern would be the durability of the fixed cable. While it seems solid now, only time will tell how it holds up to prolonged use.
Comfort & Isolation
With the diminutive shell size and angled nozzles, the IE 800 S is an extremely comfortable IEM. The housings practically disappear into your ears and I have worn them for several hours at a time without any discomfort whatsoever.
While I can think of a couple others I have that are as comfortable, I cannot think of anything that surpasses this one in that regard.
Noise isolation is actually quite good for such a small IEM. The two acoustic vents don’t seem to let any extra external noise in and even when playing music very loudly there is hardly any sound leakage at all. So these are great for just about any situation, whether it be in noisy public transport or in a quiet office environment.
The IE 800 S has a stately, transparent signature that is fairly linear in its presentation. One of the things that immediately stands out is the natural tonality and coherency produced by the single dynamic driver.
Unlike some hybrid models, the IE 800 S exhibits a sound that comes across unquestionably as a united entity. What I mean by that is the separate elements (lows, mids and highs) blend naturally, rather than sounding like separate objects that have been stitched together. It’s obvious that the D2CA system is working as intended.
However, the dual-chamber absorber system might, at times work a little too well; The dynamic range feels a little restricted which can lead to a lack of enthusiasm and excitement on certain tracks.
There’s a touch of warmth and weight in the bass, a fairly neutral midrange and a smooth but clear treble. The resulting effect is a sound that’s reasonably light and non-fatiguing but never lacks substance or body. It also means that these in-ear monitors exude detail without having to resort to the common trick of simply boosting the upper midrange or lower treble.
Here lies one of the IE 800 S’ greatest strengths. The bass has all the healthy characteristics that I look for in a quality earphone. It delivers a sensation of impact and authority without coming across as being intrusive or dominating. It’s nimble with a reasonably fast attack and well-defined edge that provides punch but has a natural decay, giving it a tangible overall body.
Sub bass reaches deep and even manages to cause some resonance in the solid ceramic shells. The IE 800 S maintains a masterful control here, again bringing authority to the low end. It doesn’t need to raise its voice but delivers a menacing utterance which is truly enjoyable.
If there was any doubt about the 7 mm drivers being able to ‘bring it’ in the bass department, a listen to Daft Punk’s “Lose Yourself to Dance” will let you know these little guys are more than up to the task.
The midrange on the IE 800 S is near neutral but with a little extra body that carries over from the bass. It’s enough to add some natural weight and richness to the lower mids and keeps them from being too dry. As a result, the tonality remains very accurate but still has plenty of organic warmth.
Getting in the mood with “Spend My Life With You” by Eric Benét (feat. Tamia), the IE 800 S handles the vocals of Eric and Tamia masterfully in their buttery smooth duet.
There’s a slight dip in the frequency response around 300 Hz – 600 Hz before it starts to rise again, peaking around 1.5 kHz. This allows it to avoid those edgy peaks and stay true to the tonal accuracy. Male and female vocals both get the same generous treatment as well, neither gets preference over the other and both sound fantastic.
When doing casual listening, the IE 800 S’ treble might seem unremarkable. However, upon close inspection, the fact that it doesn’t draw attention to itself is actually what makes it so remarkable. The IE 800 S provides pristine, clear treble notes that have a wonderful extension but are buttery smooth.
Due to the overall fairly lean nature of this IEM, the treble doesn’t need to be shouty to be heard. There’s no harshness or sibilance present and it’s like smooth sailing over a crystal clear, deep blue ocean on a sunny day.
In Blackfield’s “This Killer” from the Blackfield II album, the IE 800 S does an exquisite job on the cymbal throughout the song. It’s just so clean with a wonderful, natural sheen. As far as my ears are concerned, this is treble done right.
The soundstage is very wide indeed and these earphones present a large space. There’s more width than depth, so it doesn’t create the most immersive 3D staging but is still impressive for single drivers in such a small housing. Positional cues are well defined from left to right but less so in terms of depth. Overall, the positioning is fairly precise with excellent instrument separation.
The IE 800 S is easy to drive but I found that it scales really well with a good source. While a simple smartphone won’t have any problems, a great DAC or DAP will certainly bring out the best in this earphone.
This is a killer combo. It’s powerful, so detailed and delivers extra richness and liquidity to the sound. Add to this a wide soundstage. The irDAC-II fills out the bass a little more adding some extra body. This pairing not only shows what the IE 800 S is capable of but also highlights just how good the irDAC-II is which becomes more evident when used in conjunction with an IEM that scales this well.
Acoustic Research AR-M20
Not a great match. This combo comes across a bit flat with limited dynamic range. It’s quite strange because I haven’t come across this with the AR-M20 and it’s usually my goto DAP for IEMs. However, for some reason, the synergy with the IE 800 S isn’t ideal. Soundstage remains wide but loses some of its depth. Overall sound loses some of its engagement and sounds a bit dull, perhaps due to a less forward upper midrange.
There’s a great synergy here and the IE 800 S finds a great partner in the ATC HDA-DP20. Soundstage is large and immersive. Dynamic range is improved, bringing more engagement and excitement. Dreamy, clear treble notes add airiness and space. Excellent layering and instrument separation. Fantastic weight in the mid and sub-bass adds some fullness. The upper mids gain a boost as well, giving them a more tangible presence and breathing extra life into the IEM.
Wonderful detail retrieval. Transparent and resolving. Improved soundstage depth and imaging. Instrument separation and layering are very impressive. Vocals are a bit more intimate. Deep, rumbling sub-bass and punchy, clean and relatively fast mid-bass. Crisp and airy treble notes. The upper midrange has noticeably more bite (where’d that smoothness go?) The Aune X1S is definitely a good matchup, particularly for getting the utmost in detail retrieval from the IE 800 S.
Sennheiser IE 800 S Conclusion
After hearing praise of the original IE 800 for so long I was really curious to know how the new Sennheiser IE 800 S would perform. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. This single dynamic driver earphone delivers a resolving, coherent and smooth/non-fatiguing sound that is sure to please.
The ceramic shells are extremely rugged and durable, yet they’re delicate and minuscule in your ears, promising hours of comfort and enjoyment. For some, the fixed cable could be a negative point; I would think the cable noise certainly is but, of course, using the shirt clip greatly mitigates that issue.
Sure, the IE 800 S doesn’t come cheap, and only dedicated audio enthusiasts will be willing to pay that kind of price for an IEM. Having said that, however, it’s not difficult to find other flagship earphones that cost as much as double the price. Not only that, but Sennheiser is a name that people are familiar with and can trust; none can dispute their contribution in the audio space.
So, if you’re looking for the best of the best in-ear headphones then you should definitely consider the Sennheiser IE 800 S. Even more so if you demand the organic nature and cohesiveness of sound that only a single dynamic driver can provide.